Before the Black Out: More Human Than Human | OWLS “Diplomacy”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  eleventh monthly topic, “Diplomacy,” I decided to incorporate my loose thoughts on Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 into this glance at the past, the present, and the future of the franchise’s iconic sci-fi world. The matter at hand: In an age rife with incredible development, improvement, and achievement, when did humanity lose its defining future–its ability to reason compassionately?

Whenever we have a disagreement with someone, we use our words to express our thoughts and opinions. However, there are those who would rather use fists instead of words—those who forget that being “right” isn’t the most important thing, and those who lose sight of compromising and acknowledging differences in opinion and belief. Diplomacy is an important skill and tactic that not many of us have or are able to utilize properly especially in “social media wars” for sensitive issues and anime discourse—we just express our opinions without really listening.

We will be exploring some of the best negotiations scenes in pop culture media and discuss how effective these diplomatic moments are and what we can learn from them. We will also discuss why communication and listening are important traits to have, and whether or not there are other means to enforce peace.

I’ll be taking this in a bit of a different direction, like say, what happens in a world without diplomacy—a world without choice—where issues can’t merely be talked through, but require brute force to get a point across. War is necessity. I’m talkin’ about the dawn of a revolution, the beginning of the blackout bigger and darker than the world had ever known. Welcome to Blade Runner.

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Thanks Lyn for the prompt (this month’s theme was admittedly tricky for me, so I hope you all enjoy a VERY different OWLS post)!


A brief discussion on the 15-min fall 2017 anime short “Blade Runner: Black Out 2022,” produced by Cygames, directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop). It serves as one of three short films based on the original film by Ridley Scott as an intended sequel to fill in the events before “Blade Runner 2049.” SPOILERS only for “BLACK OUT 2022” will be present.

A Dystopian Vision of Our World, the Not-So-Far-Off Future

Set three years after the events of Blade Runner, we are presented with a vision of Los Angeles in 2022: a grim, metal and rain-coated field of shacks and skyscrapers that continues beyond the horizon as far as the eye can reach. It’s an overcrowded metropolis in which millions of people roam the streets, shoulders practically touching, yet people couldn’t feel more disconnected on a personal level. The scene is gloomy, very neo-noir in tone, and the only sense of organization comes from not the city’s inhabitants, but its layout and structure; a handful of massive, sprawling, and imposing ziggurats distinguish between the penniless street-dwellers and those empowered with privilege.

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Between the maze of ominous alleyways and towering steel spires, one would find two types of species: the living, us standard human types, and the manufactured, bio-engineered androids coined “replicants” (these happen to be new Nexus-8 models, mind you, which mean that their lifespans are programmed to be just as long as a normal human’s—a significant improvement since the four-year lifespans of Nexus-6 models in the original Blade Runner). Already faster, stronger, and smarter than humans, this latest replicant enhancement robbed humans of their final upper edge against the robots, and unfortunately, this didn’t settle well with the populous.

Hunters, fighters, and police began their assaults on a race that didn’t even get to choose its genes—their maker, in fact, was human, so why the cause for outrage? Human nature, that’s why (cue events of 1982’s Blade Runner). Replicants were brutally hunted down, more killed than imprisoned. Feeling the urge, the drive, the right to power over all they create and manipulate, unjust violence by humanity broke out everywhere, and it’d only be a matter of time before the Replicants as a whole decided to fight back. In their rise, humanity fell further to the lowest levels of jealousy, corruption, and greed.

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A Means to an End

FINALLY, we get to Black Out 2022, a brief tale that begins at the climax of the Replicant Revolution, a stage craftily set by what I’d imagine to be many painstaking hours of sorting out the details so that the franchise’s history flowed smoothly with the coming of Blade Runner 2049. We find a young female, a replicant named Trixie, in the streets being approached by a group of thugs when Iggy, a once-soldier replicant, bursts onto the scene and rescues her. Iggy had left the battlefield once he realized that, in the war on terror, BOTH sides were using replicants as disposable pawns. Flash forward and together the two team up with other members of the underground replicant freedom movement to destroy the Tyrell Corporation’s database of registered replicants, so that replicants can no longer be hunted, as well as plunge Los Angeles into the dark ages via atomic bomb. Heaven and hell are for the humans—now, THIS life, is all the replicants have.

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Too often, these war shows about rebellion cause us to contemplate the same questions: How did things turn out this way? Was this really the only way to win? Did we even really win anything in the end? And you know, I find them to be more rhetorical than anything. Rather than asking a serious question and expecting a straight answer, these questions merely exist to put a point out there. How did things turn out this way? Well, because we kept agreeing to disagree, that’s how. But really, perhaps it’s because, somewhere deep down in the darkest of our human selves, we wanted this result—this form of means to bring us to the end. As the saying goes, “If you go down, go down fighting,” right? Then WHAT is so wrong about rigging a bomb to protect the lives of millions of ill-fated replicants? (rhetorical question, just think)

Maybe there isn’t a way outta this one. Sometimes, words alone are not enough to probe individuals to act. Replicant injustice was akin to a crueler version of slavery by the time of the revolution—it was humanity who created beings capable of achieving self-realization and freedom, and it was humanity who purposefully dangled that freedom in front of their innocent, unknowing faces, far beyond their grasp. I hate to admit it (and no, I don’t condemn the use of atomic bombs, ever), but maybe the replicants were right on this one.

According to basic psychology, Kohlberg’s theory on moral development might have an explanation to the justification of rigging the great black out of 2022:

Of his 6 stages, the last is the rarest case of man, one in which he weighs universal ethical principles. Gifted individuals like Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. fit this bill, as they pass judgments based on universal human rights (whether it’s for or against the law, this is inherently right/wrong). They tend to disregard law and social agreement for what is believed to be the greatest good for all, kinda like groovin’ to the beat of their own drum. Whoever is leading the Replicant Revolution is likely such a charismatic character, one who is seeking an end where replicants can live freely regardless of how many laws they have to break getting there. Now, back to the Blade Runner . . .

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If Only We Could Talk Things Through

BEHOLD, THIS is the future you asked for, humanity. THIS is the world in which you gave all of your power up to an oppressive state that knows all and sees all, and thus it created more slaves. THIS is the route where humans essentially reduced a complex lifeform into a machine. This is . . . the black out is . . .

It’s the world you deserve.

Call me bitter, but there’s a time and place for war, there really is. When some people get their head SO far up their asses that they close off their mind to new ideas and thoughts, it’s time for change. And that is EXACTLY what the replicants did and in the most peaceful way possible. Through the black out, two lowly replicants transcend their original purposes to become free-thinking individuals.

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The film ends just as it began: Iggy walking away from a storm of ash and flames with an eye patch, symbolizing that he, like Trixie, has cast aside his original purpose as a replicant soldier (replicant IDs are located under the eye), transforming him into a cold warrior fighting for justice and the freedom of his kind. Now, in theory, all men are equal, and the means of terrorism have brought upon a glorious end: all of the world is painted black. There is no record of who is or isn’t a replicant. Is it an ending of hope? Well, if you find their actions to be “stage 6 justification” like I do, then it might be. Enslavement of any kind should never be tolerated, and as such, sometimes we need action to prove a point—much like asking a rhetorical question. To quote MLK Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022, as with the rest of the franchise, shows us a future void of diplomacy. It’s a world where those who are inferior neither get a voice nor a chance to negotiate their terms of living. There is no fairness. There is no thoughtfulness, or sensitivity, or care given to the replicants. To change the treatment of their kind, the replicants had to think bigger and above themselves—to a region of thought that even most humans fail to fathom—accurately becoming, as ironically as the Tyrell Corporation proclaims, “more human than human.” And it is through the awe-inspiring darkness of the black out that we see the light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK Jr. 
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Once again, I didn’t even get to discuss the art and animation of the world of Blade Runner in the anime style—which is perhaps the single most interesting element about this entire short film!!! Guys, 2022 is seriously beautiful, both fluid and engaging during the action scenes, and simply breathtaking in terms of landscape. JUST LOOK AT IT. MY GOD, what I’d give to just walk through the blue, rainy, compact streets of the city!! It’s like a dirtier, grittier version of Ghost in the Shell, and if that means anything to you then you ought to give the franchise a watch.

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Speaking of, this is NOT RECOMMENDED for a blind watch. You won’t get any of it. It’s designed to serve as a one of three prequel short films to the latest Blade Runner 2049and boy did they help a ton! So yes, start with the 1982 Blade Runner, as I highly recommend it, then make your way up. For Black Out 2022, I’ll gladly place it under the “Cakes” menu for future reference.

This concludes my November 10th entry in the OWLS “Diplomacy” blog tour. A new friend of mine, Irina (Drunken Anime Blog) chose to explore how her otome stories and games taught her that you can’t please all the boys with your charming diplomatic ways. Then look out for Lita (Lita Kino Anime Corner) tomorrow, November 11th with, well, it’s a surprise!  Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

LISTEN TO THIS. “Almost Human” by pop-singer Lauren Daigle is an interesting choice for an ED theme, and I wouldn’t have picked a different one. SO GOOD!!

 

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Death Parade: That’s Just the Name of the Game | OWLS “Dreamers”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  tenth monthly topic, “Dreamers,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Death Parade review into this retrospective look at beauty stopped short by a cruel twist of fate.

Every individual has a goal or ambition that they devote their whole life to with passion and courage—whether it’s landing your dream job, traveling, or finding the love of your life. However, there are those who spent their whole life working towards a dream, but were cut short due to an unexpected occurrence. Those people are left only to dream and wonder about the possibility. 

We are not going to focus on the individuals that achieved their aspirations, but instead look at characters that weren’t able to. We will explore what happens to characters who had their wings forcefully cut off, as well as those who gave up before they even started their journey.

I’m a little late to the Death Parade game, but better late than never, right? Also . . . IT’S FRIDAY THE 13—KARMA IS GOING TO EAT ME ALIVE AND SPIT ME OUT. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the winter 2015 anime “Death Parade,” produced by Madhouse, directed and based on the original story by Yuzuru Tachikawa. SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT.

“Welcome to Quindecim”

What awaits us in the afterlife? Is there even such a place? As we understand it, nobody will remember how they died. There is living, and then the moment after death. So how did I get here—and why is there a bar in the afterlife?

Such is the state of mind of those who—fortunately or not—awaken in a mysterious bar remembering only that they lived, and that they are now here at a chic bar called the Quindecim. You cannot escape, but you are invited to participate in a game where the value of your soul is on the line, and weighed by none other than the discreet bartender Decim himself. Darts, bowling, air hockey—your typical watering hole time-wasters. Terrible joke, right? Honey, that’s just the name of the game.

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As pairs of strangers stumble into the ethereal pub, they quickly ingrain it within themselves that winning is absolutely dire to making it out alive. Little do they know that despite having come from different walks of life, human nature is unchanging, including the worsts parts of it. That precise moment of despair declares the true winner and loser, and just like an arbiter Decim passes judgement based on the revelations alone, sending them to either heaven or hell following the game—that is until, however, the arrival of a strange black haired woman causes Decim to reevaluate this cruel system of judgement he employs upon his poor guests, as well as his own existence as a heartless arbiter.

“Tell me, bartender . . . we’re already dead”

Death Parade centers its focus on three important themes: the act of passing judgement upon others, self-realization, and death itself. What’s really special about this anime is how it breaks down these notions and turns them on their head, causing the lives of the characters in the show to fall short of any real achievement or happiness:

3. Judgement For one, Decim does not believe that the games bring out the true hearts of his guests, but that true shock and terror for one’s own being does instead. He draws forth these intense emotions by the games: slowly, he might re-implant the memories of their deaths back into their minds; or perhaps, he’ll break or disable a function necessary to win the game in order to see how those essentially “cheated  on” accept these brutal circumstances. Actions define your character, after all. But could you even call this fair judgement? Decim thinks so.

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2. Self-Realization All of our guests awaken without a clue as to how they got there. None of them even remember how they died, which is crucial to the game Decim wishes them to play. As the matches progress and the memories begin trickling back, these individuals start to reveal their true colors to one another, some exploding with hypocritical violence like they used to back when they lived, others merely crying at the tragedies that befell them pre-death. What’s common between both the winners and the losers is that they are all struggling while coming to terms with the realities that fate has placed them in. That shock is a lot to take in. All at once, you remember the person you used to be: the sins that you committed, or the evils that were done to you unknowingly—how you were stabbed in the back, or how you yourself took another’s life. Here, self-realization isn’t used to instill individuals with hope, but rather complicate matters, causing some to break because of the pain.

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1. Death One of the anime’s greatest secrets is revealed come episode two: the guests who believe that they’ve just been kidnapped or imprisoned are, in fact, deceased, presumably stuck in a purgatory of sorts until the arbiter judges them, sending them to either heaven or hell. That’s when the second great secret is revealed: there is no life after death, only reincarnation or the void. Adding more trauma to the hopeless situation, Death Parade anticipates that its viewers are left praying for the purest of the two guests, only to have that purity snapped by the ultimate revelation: There are no second chances, in life and after it.

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Why do it all? To Show us Chiyuki, a Dreamer

This is the name of the black haired woman with no name, no memories, but a passing thought: she knows that she’s already dead. Inconveniencing Nona, Decim’s “boss,” the nameless woman is granted a working shift at Decim’s side until . . . hmm, well we don’t really know how long she was supposed to work, just that towards the latter half of the series memories of her past life start resurfacing, creating an unstable existence trapped with little time left to remember everything. Luckily, she does, only to realize that she, too, was ruined long ago.

She was heralded as one of the nation’s top ice-skaters, and as a child growing into an adult, everyone only saw her for that, an athlete. Chiyuki was thrilled with the praise and success, but overtime (especially as a full-grown adult woman) we get the feeling that she wanted to be more than that—to be known for who she was, not what. And nobody cared to explore that side of her. She was judged by the world for what she accomplished, not how she lived.

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To balance the scales, Chiyuki is sent as an assistant to Decim to judge souls herself. She finds herself frequently bumping heads with Decim’s cool demeanor, though, frequently voicing her human emotions and opinions quite loudly—about how wrong Decim is, or how unfair the things he does are. She opens Decim’s eyes to the way of the world, allowing them both to tragically realize that, whether it’s in life or whatever comes after, no soul deserves the unbearable weight of judging others.

She was judged, she had a realization, and then she died. But not in the traditional sense. No—her death came with losing what connected her to others: ice-skating. After suffering a career-ruining injury, she was forced to give up her passions, aspirations, and biggest dreams of becoming one of the greatest ice-skaters to ever live—THIS was what truly killed her, for now, without a purpose, she merely exists and walks along a destination-less path. When Decim shows Chiyuki the world without her in it, she realizes that her suicide marked the finality of her regrets, not her death. The pain she caused her mother absolutely tore her apart, and she is left heartbroken because she wished she had valued her own life.

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Where Justice Lies

Given the once-in-a-“lifetime” chance to return to the living, Chiyuki denies the ultimate wish. Why? Why wouldn’t she want to apologize and reunite with her mom?? Causality, that’s why; give and take. When a soul leaves the earth, a ripple of cause and effect impacts the lives of others. By reclaiming the impossible—a second chance at everything—her soul is exchanged for another. This brings us back to the first theme, where YOU do not get the chance to weigh another’s life, nor the sorrows that would come with that stranger’s death. The revival of one brings about the unfair ruin of another, and if justice has taught her anything by this point, it’s that this is the greatest taboo.

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At the story’s end, we find out that Decim’s existence is part of an elaborate experiment crafted by Nona all for the sake of searching for a better judgement system. Though Quindecim’s tactics are arguably fairer than the ones we have now, it’s still a far shot from true justice. That begs us to ask the essential question:

How long will it take to find where justice lies, and at the smallest cost possible?

Death Parade takes an exceptionally accurate stab in the dark and concludes that, though trial and error brings us inches closer towards the light, true justice still lies many, many lifetimes away. In a story rich with irony where dreams are crushed and lives are weighed like pennies, those parading into the bar of the afterlife died long before they even realized they lived.

“I don’t regret the things I’ve done. I regret the things I didn’t do when I had the chance.” – Chiyuki


Man, I didn’t even get into the slick animation (with amazing texture designs), atmospheric and emotional soundtrack, or the other characters besides Chiyuki and Decim, but perhaps I’ll leave that all up to you to explore yourself! It is, after all, regarded as a “Cake” here at the Quintaku. 🙂 But yeah, Death Parade, it’s a wild ride for sure, though I can’t help but feel that it, like its poor characters, had its expectancy cut short. I doubt there’ll ever be more, considering it’s an original source (the best kind of anime), but who knows, maybe Lady Luck will throw us a curve ball, or an extra toss at the dart board. (Just please, avoid the eyes. That would suck immensely.) Let me know what you thought of this anime!

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This concludes my ~spooky~ October 13th entry in the OWLS “Dreamers” blog tour. The incredible YouTuber Gigi of Animepalooza *FINALLY* put together a video captioning the flawed life and broken dreams of Yuri!!! On ICE‘s KING JJ which you can view right here! Also, look out for our fearless leader Arria’s (Fujinsei) post about the lovely Silver Spoon this upcoming Monday, October 16th!  Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

“Orange” is Sweet & Sour, Yet All The More Beautiful | OWLS “Treasure”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  ninth monthly topic, “Treasure,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of the Orange manga into a cautionary yet hopeful look at the realm of teen suicide, and how, as an outsider, it is okay feel unsure when warning signs are observed.

There are moments in our lives where we lose our sense of self-worth and value and as a result, we find ourselves deep in darkness or drowning in the ocean. However, every person in this world is a treasure—we treasure ourselves or we are treasured by others—and at times, we may need to be reminded of that. We will be exploring characters who have suffered from mental illnesses, depression, and/or suicide, and then discussing how these individuals cope with these issues, the reasons for their emotions, and how they handled the situations they were in.

For as long as I’ve been avoiding it, alas, there’s no going around the major theme of suicide in Orange, so thanks for the prompt, Lyn! This is also my first manga review, so wish me luck!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 5-volume 2012-2017 manga “Orange,” localized in the U.S. by Seven Seas Entertainment with story and art by Ichigo Takano. 

Death, Divorce, Drugs, Depression

Today, teachers will advise students to omit these four things when it comes to important college, scholarship, or job essays/interviews. This is likely because your employers and admissions offices do not want your pity; they want to hear about your strengths, a time you overcame tough odds, or maybe a moment of positive character development in your lifetime—NOT about the pitiable setbacks along the way.

But if these four items have become such crucial parts in the great cycle of life, why mightn’t you want to write about how you didn’t let the divorce of your parents or attempt at suicide ultimately stop you, or convey how even though drugs might’ve ruled your past that they would not own your future?

Ok, real talk. Depression is, well, depressing. Drugs are weird. And let’s face it, having to console someone about their “recently late” Aunt Susie can be extremely awkward, both for the you and the other party, rest-assured. It’s hard to talk about suicide and say “just the right thing” at “just the right time.” When is that time? Is it my fault for not knowing? It’s all just so . . . pressuring, so time consuming, and your boss probably doesn’t have the time to seat you on the sofa and listen to you express all your life’s troubles.

As much as I hate to say it, business and education are professional. Save your need of counseling for the counselor.

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I’ve Been Running for So Long

All this and more is why I avoid the Four D’s, both on my papers and here on the most informal of blogs. I try not to talk about specific real problems—negative aspects, terrible people, worrisome events—we face daily, but instead offer to celebrate the good that can come from something, even if that bit of positivity is ultimately (and knowingly) insignificant or greatly overpowered. Death and depression are hard to talk about for many, and the last thing I want to do is try consoling someone when I’d probably end up making things worse.

We don’t always get to make that decision, however, as entertainment has integrated these kinds of issues into their stories and characters. I might hear that a certain manga or anime is a “masterpiece of emotional conflict,” yet as soon as I hear “mental illness,” I won’t lie, I get turned off.

This brings me back to Orange, a brief tale about THE WORLD’S GREATEST GROUP OF FRIENDS and their willingness to alter time—risking the wonderful future in store for themselves—in order to prevent the inevitable suicide of a troubled young boy, their newfound beloved, treasured friend. It’s a story so short, powerful, and highly regarded of that it just couldn’t be ignored anymore, and descending into darkness proved well-worth the risks.

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To You, in the Past

The start of Naho Takamiya ‘s junior year in high school was unlike any other: for the first time, Naho overslept, which was also her first mistake. That morning a letter made its way to her, but she was too busy trying to make it to school on time. When she finally arrives, her teacher announces a new transfer student by the name of Kakeru Naruse. According to the letter (which she now has some time to scope out), he’ll sit next to her. And just like clockwork, the teacher seats him in the back right next to her.

To her disbelief, Naho realizes she stumbled upon a letter from herself ten years in the future, which chronicles her everyday emotions and actions for the next six or so months. It’s not until shortly after Naho and her four other friends invite Kakeru to walk home together after class that she, again, violated the letter’s requests: her second big mistake.

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Naho is tasked by her future self to get to know Kakeru Naruse better—to make him feel welcomed, loved, cherished, and understood—for ten years from now, Kakeru no longer walks among the living, and his loss was her greatest regret. Now unfolds a fatalistic love story that spans across time, a tale full of many emotional ups and downs.

Everyone Needs Friends Like These Guys

I find myself in the same boat as Naho; depression is hard to talk about, so she often skirts around the issue by using the excuse of “making him smile.” I suppose both technically work, but clearly, Naho has no idea how to make Kakeru happy. While I can relate to her frequent indecision and lack of self-confidence, C’MON GIRL, JUST SPIT IT OUT ALREADY. I love Naho’s cute and considerate character to death, but man, telling a guy that you have lunch for him shouldn’t be that hard. I guess it adds to Orange‘s drama, and that some social anxiety can be just as stressful as depression.

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Orange is only complicated on an emotional level, concerning itself almost exclusively with Kakeru’s depression and Naho’s inability to act the way she truly wants to. The relationship between the two of them is such a focal point that I couldn’t help but wish more of Naho’s friends played a bigger role. There’s the ever-teased soccer “giant” Suwa, a real team player, and he’s just about the best friend you could ever ask for. I’ll avoid spoilers by merely saying that he’s a funny guy full of heart, and that if anyone’s willing to take one for the team, it would absolutely be him. (Props to creating one of the most challenging love triangles ever.)

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But there are others: the girls, including the loud and cheerful Azusa and the cool, strong Takako. These two are almost always up to no good, snooping around whenever and wherever they can, but their presence makes me feel most at ease. They’re both overly caring, and despite how bratty Azu can get, or scary Takako may seem, they only mean to stick up for their friends.

Lastly there’s poor, poor glasses-kun Hagita, who likely would’ve been my favorite character had he been more than just the team’s punching bag. He’s picked on and ridiculed for nearly everything he does, but his logic and reasoning, no matter how pessimistic, often lead to the solutions everyone’s been looking for. Several times throughout the series he’s hinted on having a huge involvement with the finale (which could’ve led to something really cool), when in actuality, he’s just as equal in importance as the other girls.

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*gulp* Here We Go

It doesn’t take a second glance to see that Kakeru is dealing with his own demons. His smile may be pretty and sparkly, but underneath that shine is a whole lot of self-doubt, trauma, and shitty memories from his previous school. On top of it all, his parents are divorced, and he blames himself for his mother’s sudden suicide early on, which is what triggers the events of Orange! Well geez, it’s no wonder he’s thinkin’ about offin’ himself all the time!

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Suicide is big. It can be hard to stomach and awkward to talk about, I covered this. But because it can be so off-putting for some people, odds are that they will have a difficult time with Orange. It doesn’t help that Kakeru comes across as particularly frustrating and ungrateful. But we gotta help the guy out, that’s what we do, right? With these kinds of people and situations, we need to get as close as we can to hear them out. From there, we can only go with our gut and advise them, appreciate their efforts and tell them that  it’s almost always never their own fault, and that they are never alone.

In my opinion, Naho did what was right by involving all of her friends in on the dilemma. She took her sweet time, but thanks to plot convenience (and a neat twist), everyone becomes gung-ho about saving Kakeru. Take things slowly, sincerely, and whole-heatedly, for if you can save the life of a friend, then it’s always worth the time. You may not get it right the first time, but at least you tried.

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Regret and Happiness

I boast that one of Orange’s winning features is its short 5-volume run, but maybe that’s because I can’t take +10 volumes on suicide. Suicide plays a big role in the story, I’ll admit, but it’s not the real enemy here—regret is. As if all of the characters play supporting roles, Regret is the main antagonist (Guilt his henchman), whilst Satisfaction and Happiness work together to calm not only Kakeru’s mindset, but everyone else’s regret-filled future, too.

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It just sucks when you have to give up what could have been your dream life all because you felt a little guilty for having that blessed life in the first place.

To You, in the Future

Like the titular fruit flavor, oranges taste so sweet and delightful. That is, until you notice that subtle sour tinge. Once it stands out to you, that’s all you can taste, and the fruit no longer becomes desired for its sweetness.

Naho lives one of the coolest lives ever imaginable, surrounded by her dearest friends and caring family. But as soon as Naho experiences Kakeru’s false smile, the sourness just punches her in the gut and pushes her to the brink of tears and exhaustion. That’s when she remembers Kakeru’s value to not only herself now, but herself in the future: “Ten years from now, I’m still regretting Kakeru’s death and the fact that I didn’t even notice how he truly felt.”

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At this point, she makes a desperate call to fate, the ruler of this timeline, wishing to keep the treasure that she found—that they all found—in Kakeru’s heart. And if fate didn’t grant her this treasure, then she’d take it by force. I’m no love expert, but that’s pretty cool of Naho, and I’m glad that this sour story found its sweetness once again by the end—it just makes it all the more beautiful.

“Kakeru . . . is my greatest treasure. Please let us change Kakeru’s future . . . I will not let this be his last day.” – Naho Takamiya


What’s the moral of the story? Well, you could say “Never give up,” but I rather like the sound of “Live without regrets.” The author Ichigo Takano herself, in the epilogue, hopes that our future is a happy one, and that years from now we are still living without regrets. “If you have someone like Kakeru in your life, please find a way to save them. Every life is precious. Please treasure each and every day, the present, the moment, and yourself. Thank you very much.” 

If we notice someone displaying potential signs of any mental illness, don’t feel afraid to step out and let them know you’re with them. Never expect to know EXACTLY what they’re going through, but be prepared to get them the right help just in case. I’m excited to watch the Orange anime now, and with a LTD ED release coming this fall thanks to Funimation, I know what’ll bring my wonderful experience full circle! For now, the manga receives the “Caffe Mocha” approval rating!

A very special to Gigi (Animepalooza) over on YouTube for gifting me with the first volume as per her giveaway—without you, I would not have been allowed to experience this endearing story of romance and very attractive artwork, so many thanks again~!

This concludes my September 19th entry in the OWLS “Treasure” blog tour. Prior to me, Hazelyn (ARCHI-ANIME) wrote about reasons for living in the otome PS Vita game Collar X Malice, and just tomorrow the 20th, Crimson (Crimson is Blogging) will walk us through the Katie Green novel Lighter Than My Shadow! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Hanasaku Iroha: Finding Beauty & Grace in Hard Work, Dignity, and Servitude | OWLS “Bloodlines”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  eighth monthly topic, “Bloodlines,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Hanasaku Iroha review into this discourse about “it runs in the family.”

Family means everything (or does it?). This month, we will be discussing the importance of family relationships in anime and pop culture. Familial relationships include a child and his/her parents, sibling rivalries, adoptions, etc. Some questions about family that we will be contemplating on include how does one’s family shapes his or her identity? How do we define family? How does a broken household influence a person’s view on family?

This show probably deserves a review all on its own, but hey, I’m just gonna go for it here! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 26-episode spring 2011 anime “Hanasaku Iroha: Blossoms for Tomorrow” and the 2013 film “Home Sweet Home,” produced by P.A. Works, directed by Masahiro Ando (Blast of Tempest), based on the original story by Mari Okada (A Lull in the Sea).

Out On Her Own

Ohana Matsumae: bursting with rebellious energy and only 16 years old, her picture-perfect Tokyo life could’ve been every girl’s dream—if only her mom wasn’t such a mess! Carefree, irresponsible, and always on the go, mother Satsuki Matsumae and her boyfriend hurriedly pack their bags to flee from debt collectors, forcing Ohana to seek refuge out in the countryside at her grandmother’s Kissui inn. It is there at the Kissuiso that Ohana forms the resolve to work hard under her grandmo—I mean, Madame Manager’s—cold and strict guidance as a maid to prove that she is just as strong and independent as her mother, reevaluate her unrequited love life, and “fest up” her otherwise mundane city life.

As Ohana grows deeper connections with the quiet countryside land and the changing seasons, she is faced with the trials of working as a maid, as well as countless interactions with the many customers that come and go at the Kissuiso. Bonds of friendship are born, and inexpressible relationships blossom beautifully.

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The Kissuiso Staff

Much of the love and respect I have for this show lies right here with the inn’s staff. That said, it can also be the most frustrating part. The busybody maids remain my favorite: Ohana’s fresh, persevering face even if she’s not exactly helping in the best way just makes you want to shout “SHE DID NOTHING WRONG” (at least she’s always trying, unlike some of the others); Nako, the”quite literally” big sister character never fails to support Ohana in that soft and gentle way that she does; and Tomoe, the playful and typically jealous woman tends to catch gossip and spread rumors throughout the inn, adding in the comedic elements.

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It’s the cooking staff that annoys me the most. No, not Renji, the stoic and buff head chef who minds to himself—my issues lie with an outspoken young man named Tohru and a girl Ohana’s age named Minko who “secretly” has the hots for him. They’re just both so rude to everyone, scolding one another whenever they can and not leaving much room for fun. I guess part of that adds to the staff’s dynamic (and conflict for Ohana), but Minko’s attitude really got on my nerves; far too distracting for what her character honestly represents. I also couldn’t stand her voice.

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Lastly, I couldn’t forget the two loudmouths that pop in throughout the series: Yuina, the daughter of a rival inn’s family and Ohana’s new classmate who honestly only wishes to enjoy her youth while discovering her true passion; and Takako, the glamorous business consultant adviser for Kissuiso who always wants to revitalize the rather old-fashioned inn to suit the times. She often bumps heads with Sui, as her ideas are indeed ludicrous at times, but when it comes down to it, they both only desire what’s best for the inn and its customers.

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I could go on about how genuine the personalities and relationships of each character feel, but half the appeal of Hanasaku Iroha is witnessing how they go about their days, both the ordinary ones for those slice-of-life vibes and the hectic ones to see how this seemingly disjointed team tackles wild problems head on!

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One of P.A. Works’ Finest Pieces

I’m all about scenery. Whether it’s a schoolyard from heaven (or hell) or an enchanting undersea village, P.A. Works never fails to embody this ideal vision of a “gorgeous world.” The anime’s characters are all beautifully designed and fluidly animated in their own right, Ohana especially, but the colorful Kissuiso takes the cake as a visionary set piece. Perfectly blending antiquity with its polished, hand-carved wooden exterior with the luscious greens from nature, the rustic countryside inn almost feels tangible, one that you can breath fresh air easily in and instantly feel comforted by the relaxing atmosphere. I could probably lose myself in the pages of an art book if I ever got my hands on one (which I will surely try to).

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The same glowing things are to be said about the charming piano and string tracks by Shiro Hamaguchi, my favorite being a little sad piece called “Remember that day with a smile like that.” For OPs and EDs, I’m not a huge fan of nano.RIPE’s lead singer’s nasally voice, but its random fifth ending “Saibou Kioku” happened to play at just the right time.

It Runs in the Family

Hanasaku Iroha enters the realm of slice-of-life with a little drama thrown in the mix. While it’s easy to label it as just that—a simply relaxing show—the series poses much more than that. From the beginning, it presents a moving story about family and adulthood, parenting and role-modeling. Like most titles with drama elements, the events of the larger present story are results of a little, once-close-knit group from the past.

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This group now makes up the adults in Ohana’s life: her stern grandma, Sui, her defiant mom, Satsuki, and her scatterbrain uncle (Satsuki’s brother), Enishi. When these parental figures were supposed to guide Ohana as a child, Satsuki often left Ohana to do all of the chores and “take care of herself”—a mantra that she still employs—choosing to put her efforts into her work as a pro writer instead of parenthood. Satsuki gave up her entitlement as the inn’s next manager, and as a result Sui stayed behind at the inn, Enishi working for her, and that was that.

Ohana spent her whole life cleaning up after her own mother.

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As depressing as that sounds, the story’s realism is probably the best thing that it has going for it. It’s a show that doesn’t want to boast, but simply leave itself out there by remarking, “This actually happens in real life.” By intertwining the lives and efforts of the inn’s staff, using the Kissuiso itself as the anchor, everyone comes to understand the tension between Satsuki and her mother, why Ohana’s personality is so brazen and spirited, why Enishi is so desperate to win his mother’s approval over his big sister, and why their boss Sui acts like such a secluded hag. It all comes down to family in the end, or rather the lack of a strong one to bind them together.

I think we can all relate to this.

Genes have the power to shape a family, but only you can decide what path it takes. As people, we make mistakes—for some of us, a lot of them—and maybe you got that from someone (or you’ll pass it on). But regardless, if we spent as much time thinking about the ones we are supposed to love as we did ourselves, I think we’d all be better off.

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Ohana put herself in her mother’s shoes when she reconnected with the source that threw her mom off to begin with, and her entire world changed for the better as a result. She realized that as different as she liked to think they were, they both made the same mistakes as young girls. Knowing this, she vowed to be like her grandma one day, hopefully ending the cycle of familial neglect.

And this made momma very proud of her little girl.

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Hard Work Really Does Pay Off

Hanasaku Iroha walks us through the struggles of the worker class for a girl living in a somewhat broken home. As Ohana comes to find beauty and grace in hard work, dignity, and servitude, we can’t help but feel inspired by her bold newfound identity. Most important of all, we’re told an endearing story about being the best that only you can be, and that even in this self-centered world that is so consumed by “give and take,” there exists wonderful places like the Kissuiso, safe havens that offer both a relaxing time to heal old wounds and a staff that only wishes to work hard to serve YOU. And that, well, that’s really special.

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“You may come to a standstill or get irritated because things don’t work out the way you want them to, but what you gain from hard work will never betray you.” – Tohru Miyagishi


So there you have it, the very gentle and sweet Hanasaku Iroha. By the end of it, you just want to smile and cry at the same time. For those wondering, the film takes place before the finale, and acts more like three episodes linked together rather than a standalone film. Still wonderful stuff—so wonderful that I present it with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating, one for the menu and it’s all on me (actually it’s on Crunchyroll for FREE)! You HAVE to let me know what you thought about my review over this quaint little gem if you’ve seen it, as it’s a quiet show that doesn’t get much buzz anymore. I found this to be the perfect show for this month’s OWLS theme since “Ohana” does mean “family” in Hawaiian, after all!

This concludes my August 4th entry in the OWLS “Bloodlines” blog tour. Since I was first again this month, I’ll give you the weekend before handing it off to my buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (I REMEMBER THIS FILM!) on Monday, August 7th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Time of EVE Welcomes Impartiality Through Reflection | OWLS “Mirrors”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  seventh monthly topic, “Mirrors,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Time of EVE review into this reflection on artificial intelligence and robotic spirit.

“Magic mirror, on the wall—who is the fairest one of all?” When we look in the mirror, what do we see? Do we see ourselves or someone we don’t want to be? For this month’s theme, we will be exploring some of our favorite anime and other pop culture media that redefine individual beauty—inside and out. Some topics we may explore are physical appearances, social expectations on gender, and the importance of self-confidence.

I’ve always loved that wicked mantra, so thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the spring 2010 anime film “Time of EVE: The Movie,” produced by Studio Rikka, directed and created by Yasuhiro Yoshiura.

She Left the House, and He Got Curious

Rikuo is just another Japanese student owning an android in the near future. While checking his android’s behavioral log one day, he notices odd check-in and check-out times. When Sammy, his android, finally takes another detour, Rikuo and his friend Masaki head out and stalk her. It turns out Sammy frequents a hidden cafe called “Time of EVE,” and the cafe’s barista Nagi only has one request: that there is no discrimination between humans and androids.

Being the compilation of a 6-episode series by the same name, Time of EVE follows a pretty basic formula: Rikuo and Masaki frequent the cafe in order to uncover more about each of its interesting patrons and, of course, find out just what kind of character Sammy really is. A tale of unrequited feelings, childhood dreams, and understanding comes to fruition.

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Director Yasuhiro Yoshiura solidified his wacky and weird yet oddly comedic and intelligent presentation style with this one. It’s subtle in execution, but anyone could still identify it as science fiction—and good sci-fi at that. I know people who don’t care sci-fi that walked out loving Time of EVE, and I think that’s largely because the film aims at much more than pondering ideas like sci-fi does; instead, it goes deeper, showing you that the genre also has a lot of heart once you pull the wires away. The story is touching, sometimes even hilarious with all the sudden zoom-ins, and its visual artistry still holds quite well as a visionary piece even today!

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THIS 10/10 AESTHETIC IS WHAT INSPIRED MY CAFE 

Yup, that’s right. Time of EVE so inspirational to me that it inspired the clean and modern look of my cafe here (or at least I hope it comes across this way . . . do I need to remodel!?). If I could spend all of my days writing and reading in one place, it’d be here, at the Time of EVE! Everything just feels so sleek and simple, yet intricate and “underground” at the same time. Like, the coffee (EVLEND) cups, and bar, the tall tables, the ceiling fans—ALL OF IT! It’s just a chill, quiet, aesthetically pleasing place = the perfect kind of place for me.

And I couldn’t forget Tooru Okada’s VERY 2008 soundtrack, which just happens to be included on the Blu-ray release, yay! The music adds wonderful immersion into the wonder and fun of the cafe, not to mention all of the very peculiar interactions that take place. The energetic child, the grandpa and his crazy kid, the sexy couple, and even the stoic man in the back: it’s as if they all have their own track, as well as a story to be told within the music and the dialogue. I’m very pleased that the show was crowdfunded via Kickstarter with a dub, too. (I only wish I could have participated to get the coffee set >.<)

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Sammy, You are an Android

a letter from Rikuo to Sammy, fan-written by Takuto

Sammy, what is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve noticed that you tie your hair up with a headband, scrunchy, or a flower when you go out sometimes. It’s unusual. You are an android, but don’t let that stop you from looking the way you want to look.

Now, Sammy, who is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve picked up on your subtle cues as to my tastes, preferences, and mannerisms. Perhaps that’s just the activity log recalling my “most recent selections.” But I like to believe that you’re growing, just like all of us are each and every day. You are an android, but if you find yourself wanting to be happy or sad, angry or surprised, I’ll understand. 

After frequenting that place you visit, that Time of EVE, I realized that it’s no ordinary cafe, but a safe haven from prejudice and routine. I’m kind of a nerd, one who gets picked on sometimes for saying please and thanks to you, my android, and if I had a place where I could go to escape all of the name-calling and expectations, well, I’d probably be at that cafe all the time, too. 

We live in a pretty convoluted world. It’s not necessarily bad, but people make it much harder than it needs to be. Why does it matter if you’re an android or a human? If we both value our own lives and only wish to help each other out, then I’d just rather avoid “things or beings” altogether. Sammy, you’re an android, and in this world so bent on exclusion and division, I only wish you the best. 

The fact that we gaze into the mirror to begin with reveals that we’re only insecure about something, really. But last I checked, androids don’t “feel insecurity,” only assurance in their code. This proves you can be anything and anyone you desire, so do it with pride for not only yourself, but anyone you inspire in the process, like Nagi, Masaki, and myself. 

For me, however, just please stop looking into the mirror—you look great with that headband on.

– Rikuo

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“Are you enjoying the time of EVE?” I sure am, so much so that I wish I never had to leave, haha! For Sammy, reflection about who she wanted to be came from experiences with the world around her, a fashion decision, and, of course, a trip to the cafe. Through the interactions with Rikuo, Nagi, and the other “people” at the cafe, she, an android, found individuality and character for herself, defying the laws of her creators and the social norm—strict servitude to the master. Considering its impact on myself, this blog, and sci-fi entertainment in anime, Time of EVE: The Movie is no undoubtedly awarded the “Caffe Mocha,” a film for all those even remotely interested in AI, as well as what it means to be human. It’ll fill you with warm fuzzy feelings for sure. Let me know your thoughts on this post and show if you’ve seen it!

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This concludes my July 17th entry in the OWLS “Mirrors” blog tour. Please check out Rai (Rai’s Anime Blog) who went right before me and wrote about accepting every fiber of one’s being in the gorgeously grim Elfen Lied. And now, I’ll turn it over to Carla (Pop Culture Literary) for this Wednesday, July 19th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  sixth monthly topic, “Team,” I decided to incorporate what would have been a “Cafe Talk” about my high school swimming experience, along with my thoughts on the anime Free! into one big post over sticking with a team to the end.

While the prompt was more intended as dedication to “Pride Month” and all of those who support the LGBT & Queer communities both in real life and in anime, the generosity and flexibility, as well as the promoted creativity that OWLS is known for, allows me to bend this topic back to its home nature: companionship found in teamwork. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 12-episode summer 2013 anime “Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club,” and its 13-episode summer 2014 sequel “Free! – Eternal Summer,” both produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Hiroko Utsumi, based on the original story by Kouji Ooji.

“After High School, You’re Ordinary”

This was what Haruka Nanase was told long ago and, nearing the end of his own high school experience, Haru is still unsure of what to make of his future. Swimming as early as elementary school and winning races and a tournament with his childhood relay mates—all boys with very much girlish names—Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin, Haru has always loved the water. When they all went their separate ways for middle school, Haru dropped swimming entirely. Now he’s about to enter the real world, all dried up for a life of normalcy.

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That is—until the boys reunite in high school. Only desiring to race Haru after all these years, however, Rin could care less about the old team being together—he only wants to find out that HE is indeed the better, faster, stronger swimmer.

Without Rin, the three boys form a new Iwatobi High School Swim Team, and it turns out that their first challenge is not training and practicing hard, but actually recruiting a fourth member so that their relay can face off against Rin’s team later in the season! Eventually, these boys, bound by friendship, the spirit of competition, and the love of the sport, will discover what swimming in a relay means to each of them!

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And Just Like That, We’re Off the Blocks! 

Free!, like a well-trained athlete, balances episodes of training and technique with bits of fun, slice-of-life ventures and some emotional turmoil inbound. By using races and competitions as peaks of interest (and a way to execute the boys’ hard work), everything flows smoothly and as such makes time fly by. By the end of the two seasons, all relationships and story developments feel comfortably resolved—and that’s all I can ask of most adapted works these days!

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If it’s not apparent to you yet, the boys of Free! are very beloved by its fans in the community, and for good reasons, too. They all have such great . . . chemistry, and truly, they’re more than just friends—they’re family, the kind that look out for each other before themselves, as well as value each others’ strengths and weaknesses alike. Each so unique and diverse, they all have their own personal demons, but rather than facing them alone, they fight each battle as a team, causing their bonds to develop even further. I’d dare say that Free!’s characters form one of the most heartwarming squads out there; if not the best, they’re at least favorites of mine!

Name a Better-Looking Sports Anime. I Dare You.

Looking back, Free! was the first Kyoto Animation show to leave its signature mark on my viewing experience, and boy is it delicious. Not the muscles, well, maybe the muscles. I’m talking about the water—to quote Haru, it’s as if it’s ~alive~. Their attention to how water actually flows in real life is incredible. You could almost call it “liquid smooth.” KyoAni has a splendid color palette, which is bright, airy, and cheerful, not to mention that their eye for the cool, modern aesthetic is top-notch. Color and tone values help to distinguish between scenes of comedy and rivalry. I almost feel as if I’m cleansed when I watch this show, if that makes any sense at all.

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But the boys, oh yes, they are youthful, breathtaking creatures with beautiful physiques. I said it. No regrets.

The seaside OST also provides a flowing atmosphere from scene to scene, specifically those “go out and do something wonderful” tracks like “Rhythm of Port Town” and “Revelry of Student.” What the show’s probably known for music-wise is its energetic openings “Rage On” and “Dried Up Youthful Fame” by the wild OLDCODEX. And then there’s that ending “SPLASH FREE” by STYLE FIVE, a group composed of the five lead seiyuus (loudly sings 50% OFF ver).

For the Team: My High School Swim Club Story

My 8th grade summer ushered in a whole new set of problems: high school was right around the corner, and I was a) waaaay out of shape and b) wanted to fit in. So I was just like anyone else, right?

That’s when I told myself to do a sport—my first one ever—that no matter what happened or how bad I looked, I’d do it just for the sake of doing it. I was considering track for pole-vaulting since a close guy friend of mine did it. Then I looked at tennis.

Tennis couldn’t be that bad, right?

Then summer got real hot. Like, sure, it was 90+ degrees each day, but, early on during my anime experience when I was unfamiliar with simulcasts, I ran into a 30 sec trailer for something hot.

Really hot.

It was other peoples’ phrasing, not mine!

But there was NO WAY I’d “wear a speedo.” Heck, I didn’t even know if my high school had a boys swim team. So I rummaged the yearbooks and did a little online looking and sure enough, there it was.

As the summer drummed on, Free! kept calling be back to YouTube each week where someone would upload the episodes. Not the best streaming service, but I didn’t mind. Anyway, the way their club started off so small and so closely knit, and then the fact that they were STUNNING to look at—I had to do swimming, I just had to.

Season one ended leaving me in high spirits and hopeful that whatever came that coming winter (cause that’s when swim season was here), I’d be more than ready.

Flash forward, the school announcements read off an early interest meeting for the sport. I was overly nervous, of course, but I showed up, and just like a lost freshman EVERYONE knew each other already. Like 20 guys that all were buds with each other. I was already lost, and ready to give up.

Then the first practice came, oh god, the first practice. I received swimming lessons from a countryside town growing up, and so I thought I was a champ at it. But in fact I sucked. Really bad, hahaha!

The next practice came and five or so of the team didn’t show up.

They quit. Each with their own excuses.

Wat.

There were so few members on the team that we were all considered “varsity” swimmers, so at least that was neat. Little ol’ me was varsity as a freshman!

I somehow finished that year improving times meet after meet with the other first years. But my eyes never stopped wandering off to our lane four relay. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, there were four of them: one for each of the strokes, one for each of the boys in Free!

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I wanted to be like them. So I worked my ass off at morning practices and afternoon practices day after day after day.

I was even awarded the “Most-Improved” on the team! Still got the medal displayed in my room.

Then they all graduated. Except for one, since he was a junior, but yeah, they all had left me. They left the team, leaderless.

My sophomore and junior years ushered in new issues. New coaches, new members joining then quickly dropping for all the same things, but the core members of the team never left, and now they’re some of my greatest “upperclassmen” friends. Facing the facts, the others just couldn’t take the heat of practice.

But I could, and I did.

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Senior year came. Three other seniors joined me, but then those same three quit the very next day. By the end we were eight strong, but became eight of the closest guys you could ever imagine. We were all swimming Free!.

But there was this one freshman in particular. He was good. Very good. Like crazy good enough to make State qualification times in our first meet.

*gulp*

Then there was me, who had actually peaked his junior year and suffered all season with a young hot-headed coach who didn’t even know what “mercy” meant.

I suddenly felt unqualified. Alone, if you will. Days grew longer, my body grew more tired, and yet my times never improved.

I even remember crying myself to sleep one night, swearing to myself that I’d quit at practice the next day. “Who even needed to say they swam for four years during high school?? It’s not like I’d remember any of it a decade later!!”

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But then I thought about me—myself, that scared little guy who, during his freshman year, witnessed several of his upperclassmen leave the lanes for good. If it weren’t for those four boys, our A-Team relay, I probably would have—

I WOULD HAVE QUIT A LONG TIME AGO.

That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t staying there for me anymore. Heck, I didn’t need swimming, or an in-shape body anymore—it’s senior year.

But what kind of message would that have sent to them, their families, this community, that a team of only freshmen and sophomores were left senior-less after they all quit??

Nope. I was there for them. For the team that never left me when I was a first year.

For the team. 

So I whipped myself back into shape, my psyche ready for any challenges that came my way, because I wasn’t swimming for my own times anymore—it was for the relay, for the team!

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This past spring, we finished seven strong with one of our guys leaving us due to his parents moving away. But we never forgot him, and we never forgot about us.

And it was that fleeting member who got us to compete at State. Relay times are generally left permanently for the team, which is why, when he left, we met consideration time. It was just a few aching days after that we found out that our qualifying time got us in.

We stayed overnight in a fancy hotel, exploring the town together with our coaches, shopping, laughing, making those kinds of memories.

The kinds you’ll never forget.

And then we swam at state. That one really good freshman OF COURSE placed in the top ten. Our relay . . .

We didn’t make it to the second day, hahaha! But we were lucky enough to even be there in the first place, right?

When our splits (individual times) were captured by our coaches and the timing mats, my own time came in:

I swam a 24-some-second 50-yard freestyle in our relay. That is, to date, the fastest I had ever swam, and I nearly cried. We were all yelling and screaming and cheering so loud that we nearly lost our voices, but we didn’t care at that point, cause we all for the most part had swam our best when it mattered most, and ya know,

That means the world to a Team Captain.

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Like Free! tries to tell us, you can be the best swimmer or the worst swimmer, but if you don’t work together as a team, you’ll never win what truly matters: friendship, companionship, brotherhood—they’re all synonymous at this point.

We go about our lives thinking and acting like we have to carry our own weight, and to an extent, that’s true. But like a relay, everything we do is ultimately for the team, for some group, tangible or not, that is bonded together through incredible triumphs, pitfalls, or just good memories.

And if you find yourself losing passion with something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then BE that wonderful person for the team. Do what I did and work your butt off, sweat your tears away, and devote everything you’ve got just to say that YOU never left them when it mattered most.

Cause ultimately, you, too, are part of a team, their team, and you should do things just like that:

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 This was a very long post (laughs) and I apologize, but there’s a lot to be said about Takuto here. A lot indeed. And if you read it all, from beginning until now, I can’t honestly thank you enough! Free! may be male fanservice to everyone’s eye, but to me, it’s a beautiful and inspirational coming-of-age story filled with compassion and teamwork that inspired me to take on a seemingly impossible journey—impossible alone, that is. It’s about growing up and finding out who you really want to be; about dedication, self-motivation, and life after graduation. Through Free! I made friends and fell in love with a sport, but more that I made memories to last a lifetime, and that’s irreplaceable.

As such, both seasons of Free! are awarded solid “Caffe Mochas” ratings, and should be watched on Crunchyroll or Funimation’s sites for FREE (hah) at one’s earliest convenience. That is, only if you’re craving something really hot.

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This concludes my June 5th (now 6th, apologies) entry in the OWLS “Team” blog tour. Being the first one to kick off a tour of this magnitude is quite a heavy weight, but hopefully I did a decent job, and now we can carry that together, right? Please tune in to Remy Fool (The Lily Garden) as he discusses the poor perception of male crossdressers in Japanese media this Monday, June 12th.

To all the guys I swam with throughout my four years, from the team that inspired me to the one that I, myself, hopefully inspired, thank you for all of the laughs and the memories—this one’s for you. Stay silly my guys. 

And to you, my favorite readers, an even greater thanks! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, once a team captain, now just another blogger

Rei

 

Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  fifth monthly topic, “Strength,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Grimgar review into this pep talk about keeping your chin up. I’m also celebrating its recent release, which includes a strong English dub by a set of newbie-ish VAs!

“Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” In anime, characters struggle with inner demons or physical weaknesses that make them feel insecure and prevent them from achieving goals, which makes viewers feel empathetic toward their battle. Yet when these characters overcome their adversity, they can finally be able to express who they are, or in other words, “Free to be Me.” 

I’m also gonna try a new, shorter, more poetic form of writing, since I seem to have been named such a writer by blogger buddy LitaKino and the OWLS YT squad. Let me know if you prefer this, oh, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion on the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions,” produced by A-1 Pictures, directed by Ryousuke Nakamura, based on the light novel by Ao Jyumonji.

The Past is Irrelevant

Waking up in an alternate world not too far off from a fantasy, a group of strangers with no recollection of their past lives are welcomed to Grimgar, a vast magical landscape that spans as far as the eye can see. Much like an RPG system, parties, guilds, and other factions exist in packs to ensure survival and decent living conditions.

With no home to call their own, six teenagers bound by the simple wish to live in this bizarre landscape form their own party. Unbeknownst to them, what awaits their poor squad in this harsh new world is nothing but grief, loss, misfortune, and tragedy at every bend in the beaten dirt path.

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Grimgar‘s greatest appeal is its attention to the realities of living in a fantasy world. From finding a place to sleep to having enough copper pieces to afford simple luxuries like a fresh pair of underwear after using the same one for days on end, the anime never fails to appeal to logic and frugality. This comes with a downside—dreadfully slow pacing—but a show like this shouldn’t be rushed. Otherwise we’d miss out on another uneventful tidbit of coping with life’s pain, a quality that, where other trapped-in-an-RPG anime stumble, Grimgar excels.

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Being primarily main character Haruhiro’s story, I only wish we got to see through the eyes of the other party members. They’re all unique, classes and stats aside, and it could’ve been the cherry on top to understand what the Ranta the dark knight or Moguzo the tank thought before they went to bed each night.

A World Painted Unlike Any Other

Surprisingly, A-1 Pictures paints a glorious watercolor backdrop to accompany our volunteer soldier trainees as they run across the ruins of old attempting to slay a single goblin. If this anime has a winning feature, it’s the artwork. Reminiscent of the quiet world of Maoyu, it’s rare to find such wallpaper-worthy scenery at every shot, every frame. Exquisite and personalized, yet very simplistic, and it all works magically in Grimgar. 

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Also fantastic is the soundtrack, more specifically the joyous and exciting violin hoedown of the opening, “Knew day” by (K)NoW_NAME, along with the bittersweet ending, “Harvest,” a song by the same band, which frequently cues in early to accent a feeling of mourning and memorial. Both are equally enjoyable and very appropriate.

Strength is More Than Good Stats

When you think RPG stats, STRENGTH or TOUGHNESS are what jump at you first, naturally.

Now, when I say STRONGEST, having the best weapons, armor, or other gear is essential, right?

In Grimgar, that’s what Haruhiro and the gang thought, too. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.

You see, outfitting oneself with top-notch equipment sure does help, but there’s one part of your body you forget to protect most of all.

You heart.

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When sleeping, eating, or socializing are the only forms of relaxation and entertainment, you can bet much of your time is spent on the battlefield, a land where your life is always on the line. At any moment, you could get slashed on your side with a dagger, or

Struck in the back with an arrow.

Tragedy follows the pathetic party everywhere they go, and when they first experienced loss, none of them could handle themselves. It was almost as if one member meant the lives of all six.

With no one to comfort them, they all experienced petty conflict with one another—they all tore themselves up for not being cautious enough. Day by day, they milled around in the doldrums, incapable of moving forward from the horrors of their last fight.

It wasn’t until they openly cried and poured their hearts out in front of one another that they realized how each member felt. You could almost say that the wound in their hearts finally bled out.

But like scars, sadness heals itself with time, comfort, and care. But also like scars, they will never fully heal. And that’s okay.

For the Grimgar crew, strength blossomed from the heartache they experienced. Loss, tragedy, and depression, poisons that normally corrupt the body, became ironclad armor to protect them from whatever came next—as best as armor could, that is.

They came to understand just what “ashes” meant, and used their tears, innate weaknesses, and unfamiliarity to bond closer with one another. Slowly but surely, they worked harder on the field and with one another to grow as people, and to move on from that day.

For they had endured a torn heart, and what doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger.

They learned that true strength lies not in good stats, but in their faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune TOGETHER.

You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.

All you have to do is grit your teeth and keep on rolling with the punches.

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“Living has its own challenges. I’ll give you just one piece of advice. Don’t quit. Yes, when you die, you die. But if you give up, you’re definitely going to die. That, I am sure of.” – Brittany


Fortune favors the bold, right?! Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is full of unfortunate pitfalls for a cast of endearing teens, but so long as they stick together, they can overcome any challenge. A special shoutout goes to Rocco B (In the Cubbyhole) and Jamie (Jamie Talks Anime), two very special people who shouldn’t have had to wait so long for my thoughts on this series! I give it the certified “Cake” rating! Everyone, let me know what you thought about this series in the comments!!

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This concludes my May 26th entry in the OWLS “Strength” blog tour. Please check out Lita (LitaKinoAnimeCorner), who went right before me and wrote about the astounding latest-hit film A Silent Voice. And now, I’ll give you the weekend before we return with Naja (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero) on equally powerful film, Colorful, this Monday, May 29th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host